Educators, business professionals and others are offering their take on the skills students will need for jobs in the future, and the responses mirror feedback from students and parents: strong character and a sense of purpose.
Education Week recently posted a simple question on social media to solicit responses from readers: What skills should we teach students to prepare them for the jobs of the future?
Virtually all of the published replies related directly to strong character development.
“I find that instilling the importance of caring and dedication/work ethic is one of my most important tasks as an educator,” New Jersey high school English teacher Stephanie Aiello posted to LinkedIn. “I have told my students that finding something to care about is one of the most important things they can do as a person in this world. Though I teach English, I get so much joy out of seeing my students pursue their interests with hunger and passion whether it be in my class or another.”
“Implicit here is assumption that the purpose of #education is primarily to prepare (students) for jobs,” Mr. Vince, a secondary teacher from Australia wrote on Twitter. “Is there a wider social purpose to consider? Schools prepare (students) for active informed citizenship, build social cohesion, enhance health/well-being.”
Daena Reynolds, a global history teacher in New York, simply posted “Grit! And coding” on LinkedIn.
Business professionals agreed with the focus on character.
“Soft skills, employability skills, social and emotional learning, emotional intelligence . . . whatever you want to call them,” Art Janowiak III, with The Conover Company in Wisconsin, wrote on LinkedIn.
“Today’s students are heading into a very different workforce than in the past,” Ronald Bruno, with Missouri’s Warehouseman Training Inc., posted to LinkedIn. “Team work, communication/listening skills, problem solving (thinking outside the box), work ethic.”
The comments seem to jibe with a similar discussion with students highlighted by The Hechinger Report and published by The Atlantic in October. Several students told the news site they view the purpose of education as a means to both master academics and develop good character traits that will prepare them for a life of purpose.
Jadaci Henderson, a senior at Dumas New Tech High School in Arkansas, told the news site she hopes to gain an education that will help her “be a functioning member of society who can work, who can educate someone else, who can be a role model.”
Others, like USC Hybrid High School—Los Angeles sophomore Lilianna Salcedo, said “the role of teachers and education in general is to help us progress as a society.”
“Not only in our smarts or technology,” she said, “but to help us progress as a human race: preparing us to tackle the issues that (our predecessors) couldn’t defeat.”
Similarly, a staggering 96 percent of parents surveyed for the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture’s “Culture of American Families” report said they want their children to develop strong moral character.
More specifically, about 35 percent of American parents prioritize “raising children who will reflect God’s will and purpose” and 35 percent aspire to “offering the kind of love and affection that will nurture happiness, positive feelings about themselves, and warm relationships with others,” in addition to 9 percent who want to raise children who will make “positive contributions to their communities.”
Academics are certainly important, but while most schools currently define success based on student test scores, it’s clear parents, educators, business professionals, and the students themselves are looking for a broader, character-driven focus that goes well beyond math and English proficiency.
And that reality should serve as a call on all schools to take an intentional approach to fostering character and citizenship in all students, from pre-kindergarten through graduation.